In this final post in the series, 10 Things I Hate About Your Addiction, we take a look at narcissism. As a reminder, this is not an “us versus them,” series. Rather, the goal is to validate what many are seeing in their relationship with a sex addict (or someone with a pattern of problematic sexual behavior) – and help them consider ways to protect themselves, and support the healing of those in recovery.
Next week, my husband will write on 10 Things I Hate About My (own) Addiction. Hopefully this will show that many addicts and recovered addicts are painfully aware of the poisonous character traits we’ve discussed in this series.
Levels of Narcissism
The term “narcissist” is bandied about very freely these days. One reason may be the media’s love of demeaning labels. Another may be the reality that this particular form of “uber” pride is truly on the rise.
According to the DSM —the manual used by psychologists and psychiatrists to make diagnoses — a true narcissist (with narcissistic personality disorder) exhibits at least five of the following symptoms:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g. exaggerates achievements and talents and expects to be recognized as superior)
- A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
- A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- A need for excessive admiration
- A sense of entitlement – unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment (e.g. totally above the law) or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- Interpersonally exploitative behaviour – someone who takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- A lack of empathy – a person who is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Envy of others, or a belief that others are envious of him or her
- A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes
In The Narcissist You Know, Dr. Joseph Burgo states that narcissistic personality disorder is hard to diagnose. The reason: many narcissists have learned to disguise their socially unacceptable traits in order to control the impression they make and to better manipulate people. On a casual level, they appear quite charming.
Thus, older research, which argues that only 1% of the population suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, may be flawed. In any case, Burgo believes that at least 5% of the population could rightly be labelled “extreme narcissists.” He says that while this group falls short of the “personality disorder” diagnosis, they also differ from those I described last week as struggling with pride. “Extreme narcissists,” he states, “are not just vain and irritating, they are dangerous.”
Knowing Your Narcissist
The main psychological traits of the extreme narcissist, Burgo says, can be summarized as: “an inflated sense of self-importance and a lack of empathy for other people.” These characteristics “bring pain and turmoil to their friends, family members and acquaintances.”
Burgo recognizes that there are a number of types of narcissist. He lists these as:
- The bullying narcissist
- The narcissistic parent
- The grandiose narcissist
- The know-it-all narcissist
- The self-righteous (I’m right, you’re wrong) narcissist
- The vindictive narcissist and
- The addicted narcissist
Regarding this last group, Burgo states that the narcissist’s “drug” – be it porn, narcotics, prescription painkillers or even plastic surgery – is more important to the person than relationships.
Specific behaviors we might see in the extreme narcissist sex addict could be:
- Extreme vanity and delusions of superiority
- Controlling of spouse/children/others (emotionally, financially, spiritually)
- Has rotating favorites (plays people off each other in the family, community, etc.)
- Is very easily offended
- Needs to be the center of attention or is hostile toward the group
- Lavishes sympathy on those facing misfortune, but clearly jealous of the same people when they experience success
- Is emotionally manipulative
- Is self deceived – and determined to deceive others in the same way
Regarding this last point, narcissist sex addicts frequently strive to “re-write” their story in a way that puts them in the best light. In doing so they often outright lie to themselves, us and others… using gaslighting techniques if need be.
Behind Pride and Narcissism
Burgo says the extreme narcissist is “in flight from himself and most of what he says and does is an effort to disprove what he unconsciously fears is true—that he is small, defective and without value.” In the words of last week’s song: “a little man.”
Thus, whether it’s pride, extreme naricissism or narcissistic personality disorder our husband is displaying, he’s trying to feel good about himself and prove he has value. Sadly, he’s often doing this in ways that make it very difficult to empathize with, and feel compassion for, him. He may even consistently behave in a cruel and abusive manner, or in ways that cross boundaries. When this is the case, we should re-evaluate, with support, our options with regards to the relationship.
Connecting with our great, affirming, Father is, I believe, the best way to overcome feelings of insignificance, ineptitude, shame and worthlessness. If you or anyone you know is struggling with these feelings I encourage you to find a quiet place to listen to this powerful song by New Zealand’s own Derek Lind. Also consider checking out the book, The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson.
In the coming weeks I’d like to do an “Ask the Experts” post. In preparation for this post, I invite you to send in your toughest questions for the sex addiction therapists and partner trauma specialists and I will route them to experts on the C-SASI (Christian Sex Addiction Specialists International) and APSATS board. This post will also be used as a blog post on the C-SASI website.